The Regions of Coastal Florida
The eight major tourism areas discussed in this book — the Northeast Coast, the Space Coast, the Southeast Coast, the West Coast, the Northwest Coast, the Florida Panhandle, the Florida Keys, and Southern Coastal Florida — all fall into one of four geographical regions: coastal plains, lowlands, the Everglades, and the Keys.
Like a watery fringe, the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains surround the state, extending inland as far as 60 miles in some places. Mostly quite level and low, they are often wooded and dense; offshore they take the form of sand bars, coral reefs, lagoons, and islands.
The Atlantic Coastal Plain is a low, level plain ranging in width from 30 to 100 miles, covering the eastern part of the state. Just beyond the mainland, there's a narrow ribbon of sandbars, coral reefs, and barrier islands. Between this ribbon and the plain are shallow lakes, lagoons, rivers, and bays. This plain includes the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades at over 1.5 million acres. Also within the Atlantic Coastal Plain are the Florida Keys, a chain of small islands that curve 150 miles off the southern end of the mainland from Miami.
The East Gulf Coastal Plain has two sections: the southwestern part of Florida and the curves around the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico across the Panhandle to the western border. Here are also long narrow barrier islands and coastal swamps.
The Gulf Coast lowlands, formally known as the Marianna Lowlands, along the coast of Florida's Panhandle are a flat sandy area with many sinkholes, which have been filled in by the dissolution of the limestone foundation to form numerous marshes and ponds. Shaped by the seas during the Pleistocene period, they rise no more than 100 feet. Here, streams and clear rivers like the Apalachicola, the largest in Florida, meander between gently rolling hills on their way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The southernmost region, the Everglades Basin, contains Florida's largest swamp area, though today large sections of it have been drained and converted to farmland. The great Everglades, a giant “river of grass” flowing from Lake Okeechobee through the Big Cypress Swamp, dominates this area. Here, small pockets of trees poke their heads above an endless flat expanse of sawgrass stretching to the horizon. The water from a 50-mile-wide river replenishes the sawgrass, which produces algae that feeds a myriad of creatures, including alligators.
The farthest bit of fringe, the 100-mile-long string of small islands known as the Florida Keys, stretches southwest from Key Biscayne to Key West. The Upper Keys have a base of coral rock, an extension of the only living coral reef in the continental United States, lying due east. Dense woodland covers the Lower Keys, with a foundation of oolitic limestone, once part of the seabed.